May 14, 2024 Article

A Conversation with Carnegie Ethics Fellow Bojan Francuz

In this interview series, Carnegie Council editor Alex Woodson speaks with members of the inaugural Carnegie Ethics Fellows cohort.

ALEX WOODSON: Was there a moment for you that made you interested in ethics in your personal or professional life?

BOJAN FRANCUZ: There's a series of periods in my life that made me reflect about how people make decisions that come down to: How do you make choices on a day-to-day basis about the impact that you want to make? And how do you treat other people throughout it?

Obviously one big aspect of that is growing up in Serbia after the war in the '90s when the state was very weak. Criminal groups were all around and society was in chaos in many ways. You see around yourself, as a kid, that some people are getting ahead because they're bribing, extorting, or cheating. And then others choose not to do that, and they still live a decent life as good human beings, even though their choices might cost them a certain type of livelihood or opportunities. That was the first moment when I thought, “Well, what is right or what is wrong? How does one go through life making ‘the right choices’ in a space where societal and political norms have been deformed and they're changing?”

Later, I was fortunate enough to go to a Catholic liberal arts college in the U.S., so there was always this element of faith and theology in the background. I don't think I ever talked about it through the label of ethics, but I thought quite a bit about, “What kind of person do I want to become? What kind of profession do I want to pursue? What is my role in terms of making an impact in the world?” Then I came to the stage of being a young professional and I was confronted with ethics in multiple ways, just in simple terms of how organizations are managed and how you treat your colleagues.

ALEX WOODSON: You’ve been involved with Carnegie Council for several years now. How did you first learn about the organization? And how did your connection with the Council lead you to apply to be a Carnegie Ethics Fellow?

BOJAN FRANCUZ: When I was working as a policy advisor at the Mission of Liechtenstein to the UN, my boss, the ambassador at the time, Christian Wenaweser, would often come to Carnegie Council for different events and book talks. One day he was not able to make it and he offered me his seat. I was 23 and newly arrived in New York and I quite enjoyed the talk. I am generally very curious and I love learning, so after I was given that opportunity, I would go back to the ambassador and say, "What's next? What's coming up?” Then about three or four years ago, I was really looking for a community that is thinking about global issues through an ethical lens, so I thought about Carnegie Council. I got involved in the organization’s program for young professionals at that time, Carnegie New Leaders, and from there I learned about the Carnegie Ethics Fellowship.

I am quite happy that CEF is a cohort model, where this is a group of folks to learn and grow with. I was, again, fortunate in my life that I have taken part in multiple fellowships with similar cohort models. I know the value of it and how transformative it can be. It allows you get to know people better, to be exposed to different perspectives, and to be confronted with questions and challenges about issues that you might not necessarily think about on a daily basis. A recent module was focused on financial inclusion. I haven’t thought much about that and its different ethical challenges and how relevant that might be to my life. Similarly with migration, which was the subject of a module last summer. I’ve touched on migration issues just generally working on issues of peace and security, but not on the deeper level that we had an opportunity to do when we gathered six months ago.

ALEX WOODSON: On your website, you write “I work to reduce violence across the world and fix international mechanisms for peace.” How do you go about this?

BOJAN FRANCUZ: Throughout my career when it comes to issues of peace and security, I've entered it through a variety of ways. I worked for two European governments as a policy advisor trying to influence change by negotiating international treaties or different UN resolutions. So, there’s one way to do it that’s very much the normative framework of going through established international organizations and channels.

The other way that I've been doing it for the past five years at the NYU’s Center for International Cooperation has been initially through research, but we really do more than just that. You first have to showcase what the problem is and where the world is hurting when it comes to violence. But then you also advance ideas in terms of what can be done to reduce the levels of violence and to make our world safer. You do that by pointing to the evidence and data, but also by bringing decision-makers and experts together and launching different initiatives and networks. It's not enough just to have good idea, you also must be intentional in advocating for those ideas and accompany decision-makers to implement change.

ALEX WOODSON: On your website, you write that you are “committed to making our cities more peaceful, innovative, and networked to tackle the present global challenges.” What does this look like in practice?

BOJAN FRANCUZ: When we think about issues of peace more broadly, most often people think about ongoing conflicts in places like Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, and Israel and Gaza. To deal with that type of conflict, we have institutions and mechanisms like the United Nations – even if not perfect, and often ineffective. But when we really look at how people are dying violently today, so many are also being killed outside of traditional conflict zones. The data shows that about 80 percent of violent deaths that take place in the world take place outside of conflict zones. In many cases, they take place on the streets of cities across the world, where today more than half of the world’s population lives.

That's where quite a bit of my time and energy and effort was spent while working to build up and manage Peace in Our Cities; a network of mayors and city leaders working to reduce urban violence in their communities. I have been spending less time dealing with these larger geopolitical conflicts. When it comes to geopolitical conflicts, we don't necessarily have tried and tested solutions to say, "Well, this is the formula you could use to solve the Middle East conflict." But we do, on the other hand, have a variety of formulas and evidence-informed solutions on how to reduce homicides, how to reduce gang violence, how to reduce violence against women and children. Oftentimes this work takes place in cities, under the local government leadership. One can think of Medellin, Colombia, which changed from one of the crime capitals of the world to today being a popular city for tourists. They've seen extraordinary reductions in crime and violence. I can go on and on about countless examples in many other places, but that gives me hope and makes me very excited about cities and local governments as a unit where innovation, experimentation, and change takes place.

ALEX WOODSON: You previously served as a futurist-in-residence at the Institute for Urban Futures at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. In your most hopeful vision of the future, what do you see?

BOJAN FRANCUZ: What I like about the work that's focused on the future is that it exercises your imagination and creativity; it allows you to think of alternative—better—futures. I think that we lack spaces where we can imagine how our societies, cities, countries, and the world can be radically different. I really wish that there is more space for that, for leaders, for young people, or just even for ordinary citizens to think: How radically different can my community look?

For me, when it comes to the hopeful vision of the future, this goes back to why I spent most of my career working on issues of peace and security. As somebody who comes from a region that has not known peace and security, including when I was growing up there, I know how essential peace is in terms of public safety on your streets, but also in terms of safety in your own home. My hopeful vision of the future is one where we do everything in our power to make sure that we reduce levels of violence across the world and invest in the next generation in order for them to live in peaceful and prosperous societies.

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is an independent and nonpartisan nonprofit. The views expressed within this article are those of the Fellow and do not necessarily reflect the position of Carnegie Council.

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